At this time of the year when we feel signs of summer coming, there is one particular food that always appears on our family’s dining table. It is orange-colored, slimy and glossy food. Being soaked in milky water inside a glass bowl, it shows unusual presence on the table with the smell of ocean that is too peculiar for words. It is not sea urchin, shellfish or sea cucumber. It is sea squirt, and is my father’s great favorite.
When the season of sea squirt comes, my father comes back home in a good mood. No matter how bad day he has, his mood becomes better, because his favorite food and cold beer are waiting for him at home. Cracking a beer as a refresher, and then enjoying raw sea squirt with hot sake – it is his usual course. He has this blissful moment only in the limited time of the year.
For a long time, I didn’t like sea squirt even though I had never tried. It was actually three years ago when I finally ate it. Due to its mysterious looking and distinctive smell, I didn’t even try to taste. So, I was even surprised with myself that all of the sudden I realized how tasty it is. My father is happy that he can now share the joy of eating sea squirt with me. Probably he found it boring to eat it alone. It is a joy to share what you love with others. Being able to enjoy the taste of sea squirt, I felt as if I gained molecule of adult. I think that if we can enjoy variety of taste – especially the taste from natural blessings, the life becomes richer.
It was when my father was 19 years old and still a professional cyclist. He went on an expedition to Aomori prefecture and saw sea squirt for the first time in his life. It was an unidentifiable food that my father had never seen before. “Try it,” he was offered by one of the seniors to eat the distinctively smelly sea squirt. The taste was too strong for somebody who ate it for the first time. In fact, the seniors teased the young man, assuming that he couldn’t appreciate the taste. However, my father went against their expectation, in a great measure. “Wow! Yummy!” It was the first word came out of his mouth. He was even thrilled by the taste. Everybody was surprised to see my father who was not even acting tough but actually enjoyed eating sea squirt with a sparkle in his eye.
Since then, sea squirt became his great favorite. When he was to participate the race in Aomori, he was happy to go on an expedition. Of course it was because he was able to eat sea squirt as much as he wanted. Soon, he found himself to have a nickname among racers. It was “Mr. Sea Squirt.” The nickname spread without my father’s intention and he became famous as the man who loves sea squirt too much.
The sea squirts we eat at home recently are mostly from Miyagi prefecture. One of my father’s best friends, Mr. Yoshio Sekine, sends us well-selected good quality sea squirt every year. He was used to be a bicycle racer and knows very well about my father, Mr. Sea Squirt. Although they are good friend and regularly talk on the phone, when the season of sea squirt comes, the frequency of phone calls increases. Here is the typical conversation. “I had caught a good one. And I have sent it to you.” “Ah, it was tasty.” “Good to hear that. Then I send you more.”
It was three years ago in May when I met Mr. Sekine for the first time. I was secretly looking forward to the opportunity to meet Mr. Sekine who often comes up in my father’s conversation topic. It was fortunate to realize the taste of sea squirt before meeting Mr. Sekine. One day, I saw the sea squirt sent from Mr. Sekine on the table looked very fresh and tasty, so I tried it. At that moment, I have developed the sense of taste for sea squirt.
One fine day in May, Mr. Sekine drove all the way to Niigata from Sendai to visit us with his wife. Five of us, Mr. Sekine and his wife, my father and my mother, and I, had a lunch at a local restaurant, and I heard a lot of episodes of the good buddies in their young days. “I show you something that brings back memories”, and Mr. Sekine took out a picture. My father and Mr. Sekine were on the picture together with several other fellows, all wearing the same orange uniform. At that time, the two of them were still students of the bicycle race school. I saw in their face the sense of naiveness rather than that of valiant athlete.
Among the episodes I heard from them, my most favorite one is about one of the races that my father won the cup. Mr. Sekine was an exceptionally skilled cyclist and arose even my father’s admiration. Although they were best friend, they were also rivals. Unfortunately, my father happened to race Mr. Sekine at such a big stage as the bicycle racetrack in Tokyo. Although my father won by a narrow margin, even now my father sometimes wonders, “Perhaps he let me win.” But he hasn’t found out the truth yet. Needless to say, athlete must be serious at every competition reflecting the sportsmanship. However, after meeting Mr. Sakine, I came to know his good personality and understand my father’s wonder. He is very gentle. After the race, hailing my father’s victory, Mr. Sekine took my father’s hand, and they went half round of racing track.
Plenty of fresh sea squirts have been delivered from Sendai this year again. I enjoy eating them with my father. Still, I cannot describe the taste of sea squirt very well like my father. Probably to him, it is a taste of adolescence and bond with his best friend.
The man, who was called Mr. Sea Squirt, eats sea squirts tonight again with smile on his face.
text & illustration by Sayuri Amano
English translation by Megumu Ogata